A great oral history of Silicon Valley



I’ve always been interested in the story behind the story, whether it was a book, movie, TV show, software or a company.  Well, if you are interested in the story behind Silicon Valley, I highly recommendAdam Fisher’s  Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom).

Mr. Fisher has done about 200 interviews – the interviewees are all listed in the back of the book – and combines their quotes with a well-written narrative. I’ve probably read a couple of dozen books on the history of technology and this is certainly one of the best. If you are interested in learning about the forgotten geniuses of General Magic, this is the place – unless you can wait for the documentary film. I was one of the very few who bought their Magic Link personal communicator. It was way too heavy, but more importantly, was at least 15 years ahead of its time. I eventually sold it on eBay – for a loss. It’s probably valuable today as a collector’s item!

This and other compelling stories kept me reading the book for two days straight. My only criticism is the paucity of photos – all clumped together late in the book, obviously done to same production costs. Be nice if he had a web site with lots of other photos.

Here’s just one little tidbit I learned about Facebook. I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of product virality and I always thought Facebook achieved that through its social graph, connecting the friends of users and it’s phenomenal word of mouth at universities.

But here’s a quote about how Facebook really built-in virality and their hockey stick growth  took off:

Ezra Callahan: The single greatest growth mechanism ever was photo tagging. It shaped all of the rest of the product decisions that got made.

Dustin Moskowivtz: News Feed is the concept of viral distribution, incarnate.

Adam Fisher: The ability to upload digital photos – and then tag them – was a tipping point. With Photos, Facebook started to go viral.

Mr. Fisher closes the book with an Epilogue quoting William Gibson: The future is already hear – it’s just not very evenly distributed. 

If there is one lesson for founders from this book is that it’s just as bad to be too early as it is to be too late. If you lack the infrastructure to support your product it will die, as did General Magic’s Magic Link. So beware of external dependencies!

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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